Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer checks a truck before his crew leaves the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

CN Fire Rangers operate under minimal budget

Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY Phoenix Archives
09/14/2012 08:31 AM

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - From January to September, the Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers responded to 157 fires within the tribe’s jurisdiction. But as the number of fires remain consistent with previous years, the Fire Rangers crew is down to a fraction of its previous workforce.

“Three years ago, I had about 10 to 12 men that I could work six to eight months out of the year, to put out these 200 to 300 fires that we have,” Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer said. “Due to cuts and the lack of support to my department, next Tuesday (Sept. 4) we’ll be down to four firefighters and the same amount of fires to fight.”

The Fire Rangers are extensively trained and held to a higher standard than other firefighters in the area, Comingdeer said.

“We are the only federally qualified wild land firefighters in the Cherokee Nation,” he said. “We have lots of volunteer fire departments and lots of city fire departments, but none of them are federally qualified or equipped to fight wild land fire in the Cherokee Nation. They’re state-qualified, state-certified, not federal.”

Comingdeer added that he’s the program’s only full-time CN employee. The Bureau of Indian Affairs employs the other three members, but Comingdeer said it would be beneficial for the tribe to hire the men full time.

“We’ve tried to get them that way, to have Cherokee Nation hire these men to work here permanently. So far we haven’t had any luck doing that,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s budget restraints. I just don’t think that the right people have found out.”

Natural Resources Director Pat Gwin said federal funds allocated to the program have been cut in previous years.

“We used to get a far greater amount from the BIA,” said Gwin. “Our funding level has dropped from about $172,000 to the $56,000 that it is now. We are only able to conduct actual fire suppression activities upon the instruction and oversight of the bureau.”

Staffing is not the only problem the Fire Rangers face. Comingdeer said the program’s budget doesn’t include maintenance expenses for equipment or an operating base.

“It’s very difficult to fight fire the way we do because we don’t have a headquarters. We don’t have a building. We don’t have a place to park our equipment,” said Comingdeer. “Our equipment sits out in the heat and freezing cold all year long. Yet during fire season there is a big demand for us to perform at a federal level, with substandard funding.”

Gwin acknowledged that a building would be welcome, but again stated that funds aren’t’ there.

“It’s a non-tribal priority allocation program,” he said. “A lot of the money that the bureau dolls out in the annual funding agreement is called TPA, which means we have a certain amount of leeway as to how we can spend that. The preparedness fund, it comes down as a very specific line item. It says, you will maintain this truck, you will maintain an employee.”

Comingdeer also said the department’s importance is often overlooked, at least until it’s needed. However, Gwin said the tribe and non-tribal firefighters appreciate the Fire Rangers.

Oklahoma Forestry crew chief Dale Winkler said the Fire Rangers play a vital role in protecting tribal wild lands.

“I’ve worked with David as far as fighting wild land fires and they’ve been very helpful,” he said. “They help protect and preserve our wild lands, our forests out here and also the houses that surround them.”

Winkler said the amount of crew hands in which the Fire Rangers employ is much smaller than the crews he is accustomed to working with, particularly for the rapidly approaching fall fire season. He said his concern is for local communities, particularly in rural areas, because fires caused evacuations in Oklahoma during the summer.

“We could have another Luther or Drumright fire right here in Adair County or Cherokee County or Sequoyah County,” said Winkler. “In the Bell, Cave Springs and Lyon Switch areas we’ve got a lot of tribal homes there. They’re not easy to get to.”

918-453-5000 ext. 5903


08/28/2014 01:21 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The stables are filling up as quarter horse racing returns to Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs on Sept. 6 for a fifth consecutive year. The schedule features 28 days of American Quarter Horse Association, Appaloosa and Paint races through Nov. 8. Races begin at noon every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day features 12 races. Popularity of the track’s quarter horse racing meet continues to draw some of the most talented people in the sport to WRD. “We are very excited that Eddie Willis and Toby Keeton, the top two trainers in earnings in the United States, will be returning with full stables to compete at this year’s meet,” Jesse Ullery, WRD racing secretary and simulcast manager, said. The 2014 WRD racing schedule features 34 stakes races. Top 10 qualifiers from the non-pari-mutuel Kansas Jackpot Trials and Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Trials previously held on Aug. 23 will be part of the opening race cards for the finals on Sept. 9. Both finals include added money, with the Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Finals guaranteeing $150,000, while $25,000 is promised for the Kansas Jackpot Futurity Finals. Race fans visiting on Sept. 28 will witness the $15,000 added AQHA Zoetis Starter Allowance Challenge, the $27,500 guaranteed AQHA John Deer Juvenile Challenge Finals, the $30,000 added AQHA Red Cell Distance Challenge Finals and the AQHA Adequan Derby Challenge Finals, worth an estimated $32,500. The 400-yard Black Gold Division 400 Futurity Finals for 2-year-olds on Oct. 5 also promises to be an exciting event, adding $150,000 to the pot with $7,500 going to stallion awards. “We have a very competitive stakes program this year for all ages of horses. There is a lot to see,” Ullery said. The $294,625 Black Gold Futurity Championship highlights the meet on Nov. 8. The finale on Nov. 8 also includes the $25,000 Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Derby Finals and the Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Futurity Finals Grade II, worth $75,000. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs is located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and click on the Will Rogers Downs tab or call (918) 283-8800.
08/26/2014 02:28 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation department employees are completing work in preparation for the Cherokee National Holiday. The annual event begins on Aug. 29 and ends Aug. 31. A listing of holiday event times and locations can be found <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. The task of preparing for nearly 100,000 visitors requires multiple departments to work together to complete the variety of improvements to event locations. Cherokee National Holiday Director Lou Slagle acknowledged CN Facilities Dept. for taking on the majority of the physical labor.
08/26/2014 01:39 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Aug. 12 meeting, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission approved granting new staff members security clearances and gave the commission more flexibility to enhance productivity. The commission tabled the design of new voter registration cards due to budget constraints and pending tribal council clarification. CNEC Chairman Bill Horton announced no official decisions were made during executive session, which extended over one hour.
08/26/2014 09:06 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The 175th anniversary of the Cherokee Nation’s 1839 Constitution will be commemorated during this year’s Cherokee National Holiday. It was signed Sept. 6, 1839, after contentious meetings between two Cherokee factions – Eastern Cherokees or the Ross Party led by Principal Chief John Ross, and the Old Settlers who settled Arkansas and what is now eastern Oklahoma in the early 1800s. A third faction, the so-called Treaty Party, that in 1835 signed away what remained of Cherokee land in the Southeast for $5 million, sided with the Old Settlers. Those led by Ross had just arrived in Indian Territory in the spring of 1839 after being removed from their homes in the Southeast. Sequoyah, who had moved to Indian Territory in 1829 from Arkansas, attempted to unite the Old Settlers, who had their own government, with the Ross Party. On July 12, 1839, a convention was held, and after deliberation a formal Act of Union was adopted, whereby the two branches declared to be “one body politic, under the style and title of the Cherokee Nation, succeeding both of the tribal organizations. Ross; George Lowrey, president of the National Committee; Goingsnake, speaker of the council; and 13 others signed the act on behalf of the Ross Party. Acting Principal Chief John Looney, Council President George Guess and 15 other Old Settlers leaders, including Sequoyah, signed for that faction. Another convention met at Tahlequah in September 1839, composed mostly of Eastern Cherokees, to frame a new constitution. The document established rules for election of legislators and chiefs and common holding of the lands of the Nation. Another feature was suffrage for boys over 18 years of age. For purposes of civil administration and the apportionment of legislators, the CN was divided into nine districts similar in size and organization to counties. They were called Canadian, Illinois, Sequoyah, Flint, Delaware, Goingsnake, Tahlequah, Saline and Cooweescoowee, the last one being named in honor John Ross’ Cherokee name. The 1839 Constitution was preceded by the 1827 Constitution, which was drafted on July 26, 1827, at New Echota, Ga. The document outlined a structure of government, which included an elected principal chief, a senate and a house of representatives. In 1898, the CN’s 1839 Constitution ceased to govern the tribe as the Curtis Act instituted by the federal government dissolved tribal governments in Indian Territory to assimilate tribes and prepare for Oklahoma statehood, which came in 1907. Until 1971, the federal government played a paternalistic role for the Cherokee people, choosing their chiefs and dictating tribal matters. In 1971, after his selection as the tribe’s first elected chief since 1903, William Wayne Keeler presided over the drafting of a new Cherokee constitution. The 1975 Cherokee Constitution, signed by Principal Chief Ross Swimmer in October 1975, superseded the 1839 Constitution. The new constitution contained a Bill of Rights, specifications for tribal citizenship or citizenship, three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), tribal elections, qualifications for elected office and rules for council meetings. A constitutional convention was held in Tahlequah in 1999 to revise and update the tribe’s constitution. Delegates from throughout the CN discussed, debated and modified the 1975 document. The new constitution included a clause that removed the need to ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ permission to amend the constitution. Cherokee voters approved the amendment in May 2003 that removed federal requirements for amendments to the 1975 Constitution. Two months later, voters adopted the 1999 Constitution as the tribe’s supreme law. The tribe and BIA negotiated changes to the new constitution and it was ratified in 2003. However, the secretary of the Interior would not approve it. Proponents of the new constitution filed a lawsuit with the tribe’s Judicial Appeals Tribunal (now Supreme Court) in 2005, asking it to rule whether the 1999 law was valid. On June 7, 2006, the JAT ruled the law became the tribe’s “organic document” when the Cherokee people approved it. The CN officially began using the 1999 Constitution in July 2006. However, as late as November 2011, the BIA stated it has not approved the tribe’s 1999 Constitution or an amendment that led to its implementation. CN Attorney General Todd Hembree, who in November 2011 was the Tribal Council’s attorney, wrote a letter that stated CN has a strong argument that the U.S. government has recognized the 1999 Constitution because the government has approved numerous government-to-government actions between itself and the CN in the past five years. In July, Hembree took part in a ceremony at the Capitol Square in Tahlequah that celebrated the 1839 Act of Union, which had allowed for the creation of the 1839 Constitution. “This Act of Union was not born out of a desire for good government. It was born out of necessity,” Hembree said. “Because if we didn’t come together at that point in time, under those circumstances, all that we fought to preserve could have been lost. It was not just advantageous to unite; it was essential. And that is what happened here, 175 years ago.” <strong>Sources:</strong> “Sequoyah (ca. 1778-1843),” Oklahoma Historical Society; “A History of the Cherokee Indians,” Vol. 8, No. 4, December 1930, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Hugh T. Cunningham; “Curtis Act,” Oklahoma Historical Society, M. Kaye Tatro; “Cherokee,” Oklahoma Historical Society, Rennard Strickland; “Echo Hawk opinion may have ‘drastic consequences,’” Cherokee Phoenix, Nov. 22, 2011.
08/26/2014 09:00 AM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – On Aug. 17, nearly 120 planes landed on a grass airstrip adjacent to the birthplace home of Cherokee Nation citizen Will Rogers for the annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In. The free event is held to honor the memory of aviation advocates Will Rogers and Wiley Post who both died on Aug. 15, 1935, in a plane crash in Alaska. Visitors got access to the planes and pilots and could watch the planes land and take off. Other activities included inflatables for kids, stories told by a Cherokee storyteller, music, classic and antique car show and tours of the home where Rogers was born on Nov. 4, 1879. Tom Brian has attended the fly-in since 1988. He flies in from Jones-Riverside Airport in Tulsa. He said one reason he enjoys the fly-in is to honor the history that includes Rogers and Post. “It’s also a neat bunch of people that get together to look at airplanes,” he said. He is part of the “Commemorative Air Force,” a nonprofit grout that restores World War II aircrafts. “It’s supposed to be a part of living history where we actually keep the airplanes flying and people can take rides and work on them and learn about history,” he said. The airplane Brian flew to the event, a Fairchild PT-19 trainer, was just a frame before it was restored. It took volunteers 15 years to restore it after it sat in a hanger in Muskogee for many years, he said. “In World War II, this was the first trainer pilots trained in before they moved on up,” he said. “A trainer, they usually made it the hardest to fly, it’s very forgiving but it’s also hard to fly, so that trains you well when you go on to more advanced airplanes.” The two-seat plane has open cockpits and a six-cylinder engine. The two seats allowed the instructor to fly with his student. Reed Johnson, of Glenpool has attended the fly-in for 10 years with his 1943 Stinson L-5 named “Lady Satan.” He said his interest in the fly-in has to do with meeting pilots and seeing the planes. “The variety is just amazing. It’s just wonderful,” he said. “The landing strip is about 2,000 feet, which is useable, but a little bit short for most people who have bigger airplanes. The real problem is the morning dew. The morning water on the grass makes it almost like an ice rink. You can’t use your brakes because it doesn’t do any good, so you have to be very precise in your approach and slow down as much as you can and keep your fingers crossed.” Johnson’s airplane was used in World War II as an observation or ambulance aircraft and was sometimes known as the “Flying Jeep.” The paint on the plane represents the VMO-4, a Marine Corps observation squadron that served on Iwo Jima during the battle to take the Japanese island in 1945. “They flew off small carriers and landed on the beach during the invasion, and then they flew off of the beach spotting (Japanese) artillery for the battleships and cruisers,” he said. He’s had the plane about 30 years. He restored it about 23 years ago and has been flying it since. He said he gets to fly it twice a week or more from his private airstrip near Glenpool. Claremore pilot and Will Rogers Memorial Museums docent, Tom Egbert, has flown his Aeronca L-3 plane to every fly-in since 1989. This year he helped promote the event to other pilots. He said the fly-in is always held on the Sunday closest to Aug. 15. “By doing this, it brings a lot of attention to Will and Wiley,” he said. “I think it’s a great event for people to come out and get together in a very unusual atmosphere. The people can actually walk out and talk to the pilots, see the airplanes, get up close, and look in the airplanes.”
08/19/2014 09:37 AM
BY WILL CHAVEZ Senior Reporter CATOOSA, Okla. – Nearly hidden by the quick growth of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino during the past 10 years is the original hotel tower that opened at the casino in 2004. However, the Cherokee Tower is getting needed updates on the inside as crews renovate all 148 of its guest rooms. In 10 years, the Cherokee Tower has held up well through high occupancy and lots of use, said Jon Davidson, Cherokee Nation Entertainment hospitality operations senior director, but its guest rooms needed updating. “We are renovating them all. They opened late in 2004, so they are almost 10 years old. We started a plan to renovate about a year ago, and we physically started on the first two floors about a month ago, on Floors 2 and 3. Our hopes are to have it completed by the first of October,” Davidson said. He said the guest rooms are being stripped down “to the concrete and sheetrock.” “Fortunately, we’re able to repurpose everything inside of the room to go to other needing agencies within the (Cherokee) Nation – furniture, artwork, lighting. You name it. We try to save everything that we can that someone may have a use for. So fortunately that’s been packaged up and transported down to Tahlequah,” Davidson said. Some repurposed furniture was sent to Sequoyah High School for its dorm rooms. Davidson said more modern case good furniture have added to the remodeled rooms, as well as soft goods such as carpet and wallpaper. Also, accent lighting has been added behind the bed headboards and to the desk walls. Bathroom shower enclosures and built-in hutches are new in the bathrooms. Also, new artworks created by Cherokee artists are on display in the renovated rooms. A new 19-story hotel tower rose above original seven-story Cherokee Tower in 2008. The smaller tower has since been in the taller one’s shadow. Also in 2008, the casino’s name changed its name to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The Cherokee Tower opened with 150 guest rooms but lost two rooms when it was connected to the 19-story Hard Rock Tower. The original tower is similar in size and style to the 10-story Suite Tower that was built in 2012 after Casino 3 at the property collapsed under the weight of snow in 2011. Davidson said there are 454 guest rooms and suites at the Hard Rock property. “We have 208 keys in the Hard Rock Tower, 98 keys in the Suite Tower and 148 in the Cherokee Tower,” he said. Davidson said the three Hard Rock towers enjoy high occupancy rates, especially Thursday through Saturday. “Our midweek busy is very strong from a group standpoint, and that’s what we focus on to fill those days. Obviously as we get into Thursday our gaming market swells and we do most of our business on weekends,” he said. CNE officials said the renovation's cost is estimated at $4 million and the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors appropriated the funding. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa is located off of Interstate 44 at Exit 240. For more information, visit or call 1-800-760-6700.